NZ First is beset with tension and speculation as observers wait to see whether Ron Mark has displaced Tracey Martin as deputy leader.

Sources close to the party say Mr Mark was promised on his return to Parliament last year by Leader Winston Peters that he could become the deputy.

But Mr Peters is said to be uncomfortable with him pushing the matter right now.

Whether that means the party has had or will soon have a vote is unclear.

It might even stretch the matter out for a longer period of time.

The party’s agm and conference is only four weeks away and that could be the venue for any announcement on the future of the leadership. Or the party might want to have it wrapped up now and present the new leadership as a fait accompli to the conference.

Mr Mark’s own reputation is under a bit of a cloud after comments he made in Parliament last month suggesting the Iraqi army solders being trained by the New Zealanders were cowards.

Mr Mark is a former solder and the party’s defence spokesman.

The comments led to a senior Labour MP approaching Mr Peters suggesting he rope Mr Mark in.

And Government sources said the remarks had angered New Zealand troops in Iraq.


Perhaps chastened he was notably at pains to praise those Kiwi troops during a Select Committee hearing last week.

His other problem if he were to assume the leadership would be the present incumbent, Tracey Martin, whose mother Anne is party President and on whom Mr Peters relies for the administration of the party.

Ms Martin is one of only two women in the NZ First caucus, a point she often herself often makes.

The Labour Party would be more comfortable with her than Mr Mark who generally holds conservative views.

He has been a strong advocate within the party of it becoming more of a provincial party and is close to its new Chief of Staff, the former Federated Farmers’ Communications Chief, David Broome.

Mr Mark is these days also frequently critical, sometimes passionately so, of the National Party.

But National Party sources say that back in the 90s he approached National about possibly joining them but was rebuffed.

And then there is the elephant in the room — former Labour Minister and close friend of Mr Peters, Shane Jones.

There has been ongoing speculation that Mr Jones would be a logical replacement as Leader to Mr Peters.

He has popular appeal, Ministerial experience and is another high flying Ngapuhi Maori.

But when he might chose to come back to Parliament is another uncertainty.

What all this adds up to is an impression of uncharacteristic doubts within the party about how to go forward.

Mr Peters may be 70 but he is showing no sign of slowing down and he seems to have been invigorated and focussed by his Northland by-election win.

Mr Broome’s appointment has given the party a new energy level within Parliament and though its new MPs Fletcher Tabuteau and Clayton Mitchell, are plainly still feeling their way they show signs of being capable of becoming useful members of the NZ First Caucus.

Those factors plus the potential ripples a move by Ron Mark might create suggest that his elevation now would not be in the best interests of the party.

But Mr Mark first learned his politics in the Labour Party where Mike Moore was his mentor.

And Mr Moore’s first law of politics is “why not me?”

Maybe we will know today. But with New Zealand First you always need to qualify things, so maybe we won’t.